Utilities discussing multimillion dollar investments to meet water demand

Image description
Image description
Image description
In response to projected growth in the number of people in West Travis County needing drinking water in the coming decades, local utility planners, particularly at area larger water utilities, such as the West Travis County Public Utility Agency, Water Control & Improvement District 17 are planning multimillion-dollar investments in area water infrastructure.

These districts must manage future growth in commercial and residential demand for water in areas of Travis and Hays counties that are quickly urbanizing and sit above stressed groundwater sources while also controlling costs that impact current water customers, said Walt Smith, a Hays County Commissioner who also sits on the WTCPUA board.

“You want to try to minimize the impact on current ratepayers while providing service throughout our service territory,” he said.

For WTCPUA, a public hearing will be held Aug. 19 to discuss capital expenditures, including $66.7 million in proposed water treatment and water line improvements to meet demand over the next 10 years for growth–particularly south of Bee Cave toward Dripping Springs. These projects are in addition to the $39.5 million already budgeted in its 2018 capital improvement budget.

The growth the district faces is illustrated by a reported 16,000 homes that have been approved for construction near Dripping Springs and are yet to be built, Smith said.

“They have a choice with those 16,000 homes,” Smith said. “They can go get groundwater resources out of Hays County, and we have wells going dry in western Hays County right now, or we as the wholesale provider can build out infrastructure to get to those homes.”

Capital investment needs

Currently, among its largest capital efforts, is WTCPUA’s $27 million proposed expansion of its only water treatment plant, the Uplands plant, according to a CIP report released by the WTCPUA in July.

The WTCPUA report indicates the extra capacity is needed to meet an estimated 74% growth in the number of service connections that will take place in the next 10 years. Much of this will come from Dripping Springs along areas near US 290, RR 1826, Fitzhugh Lane and along Nutty Brown Road, where there are also plans to build a HEB grocery store. In these areas, WTCPUA could see an estimated additional 4.68 million gallons per day of demand over the next 10 years, or enough water to serve an additional 15,600 households.

To meet this 10-year growth projection and other growth in other areas closer to Bee Cave, WTCPUA board members will consider expansion in the next few years of its Uplands water treatment plant from its current 20 million gallon per day capacity to 33 million gallons per day.

WTCPUA General Manager Jennifer Riechers said expansion is also needed to take pressure off the existing equipment that each night must resupply WTCPUA area water towers with potable water.

“We have huge pumps that are running, and they are not designed to run 24 hours per day,” she said.

Infrastructure decisions totaling millions of dollars are currently underway by a mix of other municipal utility districts and public water utilities in West Travis County. These utilities also are currently forming their own capital improvement budgets funded by a combination of water rates and property tax assessments.

A state water plan, approved in July by the Texas Water Development Board to prepare Texas for drought, states local utilities expect water demand and the populations they serve to grow steadily.

Similar to WTCPUA, population growth is also coming to WCID 17, which serves neighborhoods northeast and west of Lakeway. Water demand in the district during a peak drought could grow 20% over the next 30-years–on pace with the growth in the number of people it serves, according to the state water plan.

Unlike WTCPUA, growth in WCID 17 is tempered by the limited land available for development, said WCID 17 General Manager Jason Homan.

Roughly 18% of the land mass in the WCID’s service area has open acreage. Most of this is, near Flintrock, Serene Hills, the Cardinal Hills neighborhood and a few isolated pockets near Hudson Bend, Homan said.

“We are anticipating the majority of the lots to come in at density, which means condos, apartment buildings and homes that are not single-family properties. Now, of course, that is subject to city approval. But we look at the patterns going on right now, and try to anticipate based on the highest-use scenario.”

To prepare, WCID 17 could spend as much as $11.30 million to increase the capacity of its Mansfield water treatment plant from 6 million gallons per day to as much as 12 million gallons per day. How the project is funded and phased will be decided at its August board meeting, Homan said.

WCID 17 designed the plant from its first construction knowing the expansion would be needed, he said. WCID 17 staff also has a second water treatment plant, Eck, that can treat 16 million gallons per day, and there are no plans at this time to expand the Eck facility, Homan said.

In Water Control & Improvement District 10, which serves drinking water via water purchases from the city of Austin to about 7,600 people in and near the city of West Lake Hills, water planners have implemented $45.97 million in capital projects to extend and expand water lines.

State water planning

West Travis County is part of the Lower Colorado Regional Planning Area, according to The Texas Water Development Board’s state water plan. It is a 14-county area that stretches from Mills County in the north to Matagorda County on the Texas coast and includes the Austin metro area bounded by Travis and Hays counties. The Colorado River flows through this area, and dams along its course create the Highland Lakes, including lakes Buchanan, Travis and Austin, which function as major sources of potable drinking water.

Area water utilities purchase raw water from the Lower Colorado River Authority using contracts measured in acre feet of water. An acre foot equals 325,851 gallons, and on average statewide, this supplies about 6 people water for one year.

For example, WCID 17 can purchase up to 8,800 acre feet from the LCRA, Homan said. WTCPUA has a contract to purchase up to 9,000 acre feet, and WCID 10 purchases up to 3,360 acre feet from the city of Austin.

To meet growing demand for water from these utilities as well as supply water for important uses such as power generation and irrigation, the LCRA at a cost of $315 million, has added an additional reservoir near the Texas coast, the Arbuckle Reservoir. The reservoir is intended to reduce water demand on the Highland Lakes. And, according to the state water plan, more reservoirs will be needed beyond 2030. The LCRA is considering adding these in its long-term plans, and according to the LCRA, plans to spend $59.4 million in the next five years on water supply projects.

However, raw water purchases alone will not meet the coming needs of growth, according to the state water plan. Local utility planners are also spending time now to plan for droughts, encourage conservation, find water line leaks and set up other strategies, like the use of treated wastewater for irrigation.

Utilities also charge water customers based on usage. The more water a customer uses, the higher the water rate; however, escalating water rates currently has limited effect on water demand, said Riechers.

“Our rates are designed for conservation,” Riechers said. “The more water you use, the higher the rates go, but around here people are not so much affected by that. They are willing to pay that water bill.”
By Greg Perliski

Editor, Lake Travis/Westlake & Northwest Austin

Greg joined Community Impact as an editor in November 2020. In the communities he covers, Greg reports on local government, transportation, real estate development and business. He has written for newspapers, online publications and corporate communications teams. Greg earned a journalism degree from the University of Texas at Austin.


Photo of ACL Fest
Zilker Park closes in preparation for Austin City Limits Music Festival

Zilker Park closes in preparation for Austin City Limits Music Festival

As part of budget action, Lakeway adopted a lower tax rate from the prior year. (Courtesy Fotolia)
Lakeway City Council approves FY 2021-22 budget

As part of budget action, Lakeway adopted a lower tax rate from the prior year.

Austin city staff and officials are pursuing additional protections related to mold issues in rental housing. (Courtesy city of Austin)
City pursuing improvements to handling of Austin renters' mold complaints

New recommendations from a report launched in the wake of Winter Storm Uri detail adjustments Austin could make to its mold response.

Students at O. Henry Middle School in Austin head in for their first day of school Aug. 17. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin ISD's COVID-19 rate lower than nearby districts after first month of school

Austin ISD recorded more cases in the first month of this school year than in all of the 2020-2021 school year. Still, Austin ISD saw a lower percentage of cases in students than surrounding school districts.

Wayback Burgers specializes in cooked-to-order burgers and hand-dipped milkshakes. (Courtesy Wayback Burgers)
Wayback Burgers coming to Leander; fire kills 75 dogs in Georgetown and more Central Texas news

Read the latest business and community news from the Central Texas area.

School in the Hills has two locations in the Lake Travis-Westlake area. (Greg Perliski/Community Impact Newspaper)
Guide: Private schools in the Lake Travis-Westlake area

Learn about tuition and extracurriculars offered at area private schools.

Screen shot of Dr. Desmar Walkes speaking
Austin ICUs remain crowded with COVID-19 patients, delaying some critical care

Within the past week, there was a waiting list of patients to be transferred into Austin-area ICUs, Austin Public Health leaders said.

The city of Austin this summer cleared four unregulated homeless encampments and shifted dozens of residents into shelters. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Plan to house thousands of Austin's homeless people taking shape, but outlook for local success, project funding still unclear

The strategy's first housing benchmark fell short in June, and updates on how the estimated $515 million needed for housing and services will be spent are overdue.

DATA: How population changed in Texas counties between census counts in 2010, 2020

Texas added nearly four million people between 2010 and 2020, according to the latest Census data.

BoxLunch opened Aug. 27 in Barton Creek Square at 2901 S. Capital of Texas Hwy., Austin. (Greg Perliski/Community Impact Newspaper)
New dining, clothing retailers now open or coming soon to the Lake Travis-Westlake area

Along with new retailers, area residents now have new health care providers from which to choose.

The widening project is on track to finish this fall and the bypass project by early next year. (Courtesy Texas Department of Transportation)
TxDOT projects near RM 2222 and RM 620 intersection approaching completion after delay

The southbound bypass lane connecting the two roads is on track to be complete later this fall, weather permitting. The northbound bypass lane opened over the summer.